Eisenhower in War and Peace
Jean Edward Smith
2012, 976 pp.
Amazon review is here
Perhaps because of the division in 21st century America between two parties in thrall to extremes, centrist Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower is very much in fashion today in the publishing world. The crown jewel of recent Eisenhower-related output, however, is likely Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower In War and Peace. Smith, the author of multiple military, political and judicial biographies is the ideal biographer of Ike, and he delivers as perfect a product as could be hoped for in a work that stretches over 900 very well written pages.
Smith begins with the Eisenhower family history, dusting off legends and revealing some uncomfortable truths about Ike's father in particular. Still, he does not dwell too long on family and upbringing and by the end of the first chapter Ike has just graduated from the US Military Academy. The book is fast paced, with each chapter containing a new, interesting episode in Eisenhower's military, academic and then political life. It nicely transitions from Ike's military to political career, noting his speeches upon return to the US. The war's impact on the statesman's understanding of foreign affairs is evident when Ike tells an audience in New York City about the need to remain both strong and tolerant, always considering the rights of others while being unafraid to assert the US's own rights. Smith is fluent in the most recent scholarship. Readers will be presented with an up to date account of every significant aspect of Ike's life and career and Smith's well considered views on many of them.
Smith rarely falters. A notable example is his characterization of Hoover's reaction to the Depression ("watch[ing] from the sidelines, convinced that natural forces would set things straight"), an outdated view long since abandoned by historians. It's a particularly odd mistake for Smith, whose last work was a major biography of FDR. Another slight failing is Smith's occasional reference to military positions and entities without an adequate explanation for the novice (understandable given his immersion in military affairs for other books). The discussion of the Court's opinion in Brown is a bit muddled. Finally, his unsupported explanation of Ike's renaming of Camp David as "evidently hoping to erase the memory" of his war time patron FDR seems both odd and petty. These, however, hardly detract from what will be the crowning achievement of one of our most gifted historians, and a strong candidate for a Pulitzer Prize.